4 Reasons Diversity Creates Teams That Are Mentally Tough

July 17th, 2017 by LaRae Quy

Diversity was essential when putting together an FBI undercover operation because working with people with different ideas and opinions sharpened my thinking.

My squad mates offered great advice on the basics of an investigation. Undercover work, however, requires creativity and strategic planning. I needed to work with people who would challenge my brain to overcome its stale and predictable ways of looking at an issue or project.

A study by McKinsey in 2015 in the public sector came to the same conclusion. Diverse teams were found to be 35% more likely to be successful. Another 2015 study of more than 20,000 firms in 91 countries found that companies with female executives were more profitable.

Many focus on diversity solely as a medley of genders, races, and ethnicity. However, it’s critical to also include differences in experience, age, intelligence, personality, background, and culture. True diversity brings together a team of people who think, feel, and behave differently from one another.

Mental toughness is managing our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that set us up for success. Diverse teams overcome stagnant patterns of thinking and sharpen performance.

Here are 4 reasons diversity creates teams that are mentally tough:

1. FOCUS ON FACTS

Diverse teams are often a combustible combination of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Differing opinions can derail a team’s success if they’re not managed properly. This means diversity creates a need to focus on facts.

When teams focus on facts instead of personal differences, members are no longer outsiders. Instead, they become unified in interpreting the facts in ways that will move the project toward success.

TIP: Counter mounting tensions by refocusing the team’s conversations around discussing available evidence or facts.

2. BRINGS FRESH INSIGHT

On a homogenous team, people understand each other and collaboration can flow smoothly—to a point. If everyone is thinking the same way and saying the same thing, is progress really being made?

On a diverse team, friction may be felt which can feel counterproductive at first. Neuroscientist David Rock states that working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it is harder.

Homogenous teams may feel more effective at first. The real truth is that people with different backgrounds bring new information and insight. Interacting with people who are different forces each team member to prepare better and anticipate alternative viewpoints.

TIP: Diverse teams are forced to process information more carefully because they are not homogenous. Teams become mentally tough when they not only search for, but seriously consider, new insight from each team member. This leads to a more vigorous discussion before decisions are made. As a result, more options for problem solving are considered.

3. CHANGE THINKING

I brought in a variety of people to help me organize undercover operations because I needed informational diversity. I brought people together to solve the problem on how to structure an undercover operation against a foreign spy in the United States. Each one brought in different ideas, opinions, and perspectives.

People who are different in experience, culture, gender, age, race, and other areas bring unique information. Often this can change a stale way of thinking. Exposure to diversity can change the way your team thinks.

TIP: Research has shown that it is a good idea to highlight differences because this tends to make those differences be taken seriously by all members of the team. These were the teams that came up with better ideas than homogenous teams. But, only when they were told to listen to, and respect, the perspectives of their teammates.

4. BOOST PRODUCTIVITY

A study in 2014 from MIT suggests that having a more diverse set of employees means you also have a more diverse set of skills. This means your team will function more productively. This same study confirms that more diversity meant a better bottom line.

Greater diversity implies a greater spread of experience which can add value and knowledge to a team’s productivity. However, I found that productivity also requires something else—a common goal.

A solid undercover operation requires everyone to have the same goal in mind—recruit a foreign spy. It was this common purpose that unified the diverse members of my team so we could create a proposal that would be successful.

TIP: Expect diverse teams to be more productive and creative but only if a common goal or purpose unifies them.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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2 Responses to “4 Reasons Diversity Creates Teams That Are Mentally Tough”

  1. This point was fascinating to me.

    “Research has shown that it is a good idea to highlight differences because this tends to make those differences be taken seriously by all members of the team. These were the teams that came up with better ideas than homogenous teams. But, only when they were told to listen to, and respect, the perspectives of their teammates.”

    …Only when they were told to listen to and respect the perspectives of their teammates. – Wow!

  2. Terri Klass says:

    Excellent post, LaRae! Diverse teams are the best way to ensure innovative outcomes that consider different perspectives. Working with one organization recently, it became clear that senior parters and junior partners brought very different skills and knowledge. After a great deal of in-fighting, it became clear that leveraging the experiences and capabilities from the two groups created a very strong outcome and solution.

    Thanks LaRae for another great FBI story and lesson to share!

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